MUSTAPHA CARAYOL will miss the rest of the season after damaging his cruciate ligaments in Middlesbrough's goalless draw with Bournemouth, and the winger could face a race against time to be fit for the start of pre-season training in the summer.
Carayol collapsed to the ground in obvious pain as he attempted to hook the ball around from a difficult angle in the 89th minute of Saturday's game at the Goldsands Stadium.
With opposition full-back Ian Harte beckoning for medical attention, the seriousness of the injury was immediately clear, and after a lengthy spell of treatment, Carayol left the pitch on a stretcher with his left leg heavily strapped.
The full extent of the damage will not become clear until the swelling has subsided sufficiently for a full set of scans to take place, but an initial examination suggests the 25-year-old has damaged his cruciate ligaments.
Provided that diagnosis is confirmed, he will definitely miss the remaining ten matches of the current campaign, and depending on which ligaments have been damaged, he could be forced to sit out this summer's pre-season programme and potentially even miss the opening few weeks of next season.
“The doctor told me that he thought it was his cruciate, but I don't know whether it was the anterior or the posterior,” said Middlesbrough head coach Aitor Karanka. “So I prefer to wait for the tests and hope that he will be out for as short a time as possible.
“It is a problem with his knee, so we will just have to see what happens. We are hoping it is not too serious, but at this stage we do not really know. He will have the scans as soon as possible, and then we will know.”
Ironically, Carayol's injury came just as the winger was successfully rebuilding his reputation after a spell where he had been left out of the side.
Criticised for his conduct in the wake of last month's 1-0 defeat at Watford, and accused of having an “attitude” problem by his manager, the Gambia-born midfielder missed two matches before returning to the fold nine days ago.
He scored in last week's 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest, and while he failed to make much of an impact in Saturday's game prior to damaging his knee, he will be badly missed in the remainder of the campaign.
“It is a real shame because he was playing very well in the last three games,” said Karanka. “When he is like that, he is very important for the team.”
He will not be the only first-team regular missing when Middlesbrough entertain promotion hopefuls QPR on Saturday as Grant Leadbitter will start a two-match ban after picking up his tenth booking of the season at the weekend.
Leadbitter was fortunate to escape with just a yellow card after he kicked the back of Matt Ritchie's legs after the pair had become entangled close to the touchline, but the punishment still means he will miss Saturday's game and next Tuesday's trip to Huddersfield Town.
“He will be a big loss, but we have players there who can do well instead,” said Karanka. “I have been happy with (Nathaniel) Chalobah and (Dean) Whitehead, and (Jacob) Butterfield is another player who trains well every week.
“For this reason, I am not concerned. Grant is an important player for us, but I have other players as well.”
Saturday's draw leaves Boro 12 points adrift of the top six and effectively ends any lingering hopes of them squeezing into the play-off places by the end of the season.
Karanka's side have failed to score in their last five away games, and while they have hardly been prolific at the Riverside either, their inability to create chances on their travels is a major source of concern.
“It is another clean sheet, and another game where we have not made any mistakes so that is pleasing,” said the Spaniard. “Our defending was good, but we need to do more.
“We need to play better. It is hard to believe how a team can play like we play when we are at home, and then become completely different when we play away. It is difficult for me to understand.”